Wedding guests often wonder what to wear on such an important day, and the confusion can magnify for outdoor events. After years of standing up for and attending numerous weddings, I’ve learned that assumptions about the formality of these garden weddings can cause attendees to make drastic dress code errors. Show proper respect to the bride and groom’s wishes, and let these three elements be your guide to outdoor wedding attire.
Follow the Invitation
Your best guideline for attire is what the bride and groom have instructed you to wear on the invitation. The more formal the dress code, the more you should adhere to it. Check etiquette authorities like Martha Stewart for advice on dressing for black tie, white tie, and other special wardrobe requests.
As for “casual” dress designations, it’s a good idea to follow the lead of a fashion-conscious friend of mine who always said: “When in doubt, overdress.” Unless you have been assured that your cousin’s backyard wedding will be extremely casual, it’s best to lean towards a nice silk or rayon dress, tea-length or at the knee. Besides looking a little more formal, a longer dress is more comfortable when sitting on a wooden folding chair. It’s also less likely to cause a wardrobe malfunction on a windy day.
Take Your Cue from the Bridal Party
The bride’s vision for her wedding is most evident in the bridal party’s attire. While some brides may not be able to afford the upscale surroundings that would instantly imply formal dress, it doesn’t mean she won’t still want it. Talk to the bridesmaids or the bride’s family to get the scoop on what they all will be wearing. Trust me, even if the wedding is in a tiny restaurant courtyard, if the bridal party is in full-length gowns and tuxes with tails, the bride will consider your wrinkled cotton mini-sundress an insult.
Investigate the Locale
Just like real estate agents, the advisers at The Wedding Channel want you to note the “Location, location, location.” While it’s still important to note the attire of the bridal party, you also have to consider your surroundings. I once attended a wedding where the bride’s relations heard “outdoor wedding” and dressed in shorts and casual tops, as if they were going to a barbeque. They were fairly embarrassed when they drove up to the lavish estate used specifically for weddings, with exquisitely landscaped grounds, an ornate gazebo, and a horse and carriage arrival for the bride and groom.
Research where you’re headed and dress accordingly. The wedding just mentioned required formal attire, and Brides.com suggests floor-length gowns in silk chiffon or crepe, modest cuts, and “elegant silhouettes”. For a cousin’s barnyard wedding we were later invited to, where guests sat on bales of hay, some jean capris and a cotton blouse were entirely appropriate.
Don’t forget the practical aspects of your wardrobe. Bring a dress jacket or light sweater to ward off a chill on a windy day, and consider a large-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect yourself in sunny conditions. Wedding expert Susan Southerland also suggests skipping the stilettos on the soft grounds of garden and beach weddings; opt for some pretty, strappy flat sandals or wedges instead.
More from this author:
Wedding Dilemmas: Can My Bridesmaids Wear Black Shoes?
Three Common Wedding Etiquette Mistakes: How to Avoid Angering Your Family and Friends
How to Plan a Wedding in Six Months or Less